DUBAI // Best friends off track, racing rivals on it and both fighting for the drivers’ championship.
Sound familiar? This time, though, it is not the story of Mercedes-GP and their two poster boy pilots Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Formula One, but rather two unheralded Emiratis fighting it out for bragging rights in the second season of a racing series called the Emirates Desert Championship.
Ahmad Al Maqoodi, from Dubai and competing in a Polaris buggy, won the fourth round of the national Baja rally series last weekend to close the gap on Ahmed Al Fahim, his teammate at the top of the standings, to just seven points with two rounds remaining.
“He is my best friend,” Al Maqoodi said. “We ride together every Friday: motocross, quad, buggies. We have known each other many years and do everything together. We joke a lot about who is going to win. He is always telling everyone he will win and I am the same. We always have belief we will win, but this time I was right.”
Friday’s race, which featured a field of 94 competitors from a variety of countries including the UAE, Kuwait, Germany, South Africa and Great Britain, was a two-hour short-course event and held for the first time in Umm Al Qaiwain.
With categories made up of cross-country cars, buggies, motorbikes and quads, it proved the perfect precursor to March’s Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.
“Umm Al Qaiwain is a different place for us to race because usually we race in Dubai,” said Al Maqoodi, who has won the past three rounds of the championship.
“A different race, different track, different colour of sand, a completely different experience. Whenever you race in a new place it is more difficult, but in the end you just have to be careful. It was good though and I am delighted to get the win.”
Al Fahim, who won the opening race of the season, started ahead of his title rival, but was caught by Al Maqoodi before the end of the first lap.
When the Polaris pair both stopped to refuel, Al Fahim emerged in front after electing to take on less fuel. Once again, Al Maqoodi caught him and this time, having passed, refused to relinquish the lead.
“I just did my job,” said Al Maqoodi, who finished second to Al Fahim in the standings last season. “That’s my style of driving. He started ahead, but I caught him and, fortunately, I managed to catch him again after refuelling to hold the lead and take the win.”
Al Maqoodi did not compete in the opening round of the season on October 3 because of religious commitments in respect to the Eid Al Adha festival.
Yet with the rules stating that only five of a driver’s six races are counted towards his final championship total, he is confident that he can take the title at the second time of asking.
Al Maqoodi has 75 points from three races, while Al Fahim has 82 from four. The next round is scheduled to take place on February 13.
“I cannot race when I am fasting, so for the first round I took zero points and Al Fahim took 25,” he said.
“It’s not a problem though because he might lead by seven points now, but he has raced in four races and I’ve only raced three.
“If I win – or even finish second – at the next two rounds, I will win the title.”
It would be a revenge of sorts over his old friend. Last year, having not fully understood the rules during the inaugural season, Al Maqoodi thought he had won the title only to see it handed to Al Fahim when the two drivers’ worst results were removed.
“That hurt,” he said. “But this time I’m ready.”
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